JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – John Arroyo has a simple message for those who might be struggling.
“If you just get up, you have the ability to face that day,” said Arroyo, a retired U.S. Army captain and Green Beret who shared his story of resilience during the first U.S. Army Installation Management Command Quarterly Prayer Luncheon on Sept 11 at the Fort Sam Houston Theatre. “You can be broken – emotionally, mentally, and physically – but if you get up, you have the ability to recover and face tomorrow.”
Arroyo details his life, injury, spiritual journey, and ongoing recovery in “Attacked at Home! A Green Beret’s Survival Story of the Fort Hood Shooting.” His life has been one of continually getting up, from overcoming an impoverished childhood in southern California to recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound on April 2, 2014. A Soldier shot and wounded Arroyo before committing suicide at Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos), Texas. Four, including the gunman, were killed, and 16 others were wounded.
“It is my hope that Soldiers and Civilians will see themselves in John's story and how our faith can make us more resilient,” said Col. Monica Lawson, IMCOM command chaplain, who first became acquainted with Arroyo in June 2023. “I also hope we remember that in times of adversity as well as in times of peace, God is always with us, speaking to us and directing us even when we don't know it or can't see it.”
Finding his tribe
Arroyo’s desire to enlist and serve in the U.S. Army didn’t stem from patriotism but rather from a desire to transform his life. Born on Sept. 10, 1977, in Montebello, California, he grew up in Whittier, California, approximately 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the youngest of three children.
“I grew up in a fatherless home; because of it, that caused me to pursue approval outside the home,” Arroyo said. “That ended up in a lot of negativity and put me around the wrong people. Those days, I was easily influenced, and because of it, I got into drugs. It wasn’t that other people influenced me – I was probably equally a bad influence. I needed transformation and discipline to get myself together.
“My sister, especially, said, ‘You need to leave and relocate to a new environment and a new group to tribe with.’ ”
In June 1998, Arroyo enlisted in the Army, chose motor transport operator as his military occupational specialty, and found the leadership and the love he sought. He decided to make the military his career after re-evaluating his life in 2000.
“Everything I was looking for at home I found when I showed up to my unit in the 82nd Airborne Division,” he said. “Initially, I thought about leaving and returning home to be a civilian truck driver, but I was like, ‘Why am I leaving? Everything that I love is here right now.’ I liked the military. At the time, there wasn’t a war going on. Being a truck driver was a co-ed duty assignment, and it honestly felt like we were in college. We were like a big group of brothers and sisters. I loved the community and camaraderie, and we had leaders who loved us. They gave us tough love, but I found the identity that I was looking for.”
He found his identity as a Green Beret and a purpose to continue serving.
“Special Forces Command didn’t put the Green Beret inside me. They pulled it out of me,” Arroyo said. “I was already a Special Operator in my heart, and all the military did was pull it out and mold me. It’s who I am. The motto of the Green Berets is “De Oppresso Liber,” which means Free the Oppressed. The Army, through the Green Berets, sent me around the world to free the oppressed. Today, the mission continues; only my uniform and my choice of weapons have changed. My uniform is healed scars, and my weapon of choice is a message of resilience.”
The ultimate test
Arroyo’s resiliency was tested like never before on that fateful day at Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos), when he was shot in the neck during Spc. Ivan Antonio Lopez’s shooting rampage. The .45 caliber bullet severed Arroyo’s left jugular vein, destroyed his voice box, punched through his shoulder and arm nerve bundle, and broke his right scapula.
Immediately, he said he heard a strong voice imploring him, “Get up, or your wife will die.”
That moment, he chose to get up. And he believed it was divine intervention that aided him in his recovery.
“The first grasp in my recovery process was my faith,” Arroyo said. “I believe my Creator, my God, is the one who put – the ear, nose, and throat surgeons – in my path. I believe it was Him who guided me to the chaplains and counselors. He encompasses everything, and he was able to get me through physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.”
Arroyo still does rehabilitation for his injuries and doesn’t have full use of his right arm. While his physical rehab is ongoing, forgiving the shooter was crucial to his emotional and spiritual healing. Chaplains and counselors stressed to Arroyo the importance of forgiveness.
“The shooter, he was gone, and I was going to carry that bitterness,” he said. “One of the things they said was, ‘John, how are you going to heal if you’re carrying that poison, which is the root of bitterness? You can never heal unless you can forgive.’
“So, that’s how my mental, emotional, and spiritual healing started.”
More importantly, through prayer and reflection, he learned to forgive himself and strengthen the familial bonds with his wife, Angel, and his children. And it’s that spiritual journey he hopes will resonate with readers.
“The message I received was, get up,” Arroyo said. “My primary goal is to be utterly transparent because many of our Soldiers and their families are broken. They are masters of hiding brokenness. Soldiers come home and cut their families down with their tongues, and they engulf their homes with rage, anger, alcoholism, opioid abuse, and whatever else. And so, our books are seeds. They are seeds to plant so that families can be restored.
“Additionally, not every Green Beret, Delta Force operator, senior commander, or sergeant major will open their hearts up in front of their soldiers. But you know what they'll do? They'll read a book about a Green Beret who was shot at Fort Hood (now Fort Cavazos). When they do, it becomes a mirror of what has happened in their life, so our book is a glimpse of hope. It's all about how some of the most broken things in your life can be restored.”
Lawson, whom her grandparents raised during a part of her teenage years, echoes that sentiment.
“I was reminded of how the hand of God, the protection of God, the promises of God, and the favor of God have been a part of my life. Even when I did not acknowledge Him, God still loved and cared for me,” Lawson said. “It has been and continues to be my faith that has kept me and made me the resilient person that I am today.”